If public sector unions were merely bargaining with themselves, wouldn't they be winning unbelievably fat contracts that paid their workers considerably more than they could get in the private sector? (They aren't.) For that matter, would they be facing contract rollbacks in states across the country? It seems obvious that there's a very powerful adversary at the bargaining table -- namely, the desire by elected officials to minimize taxes on their constituents.
Since TNR apparently doesn't allow one to comment on his posts without taking out a 20-issue subscription, I'll respond here.
In attacking my argument, Chait engages in a very selective editing of my post. Specifically, he edits out my discussion of Terry Moe's research, which shows that "there is ample evidence" that unions behave in precisely the way I described in that post.
Having excised real social science by a real social scientist, Chait substitutes rhetorical questions for data. He does provide a link whose phrasing would lead one to assume that public employees don't get paid more than private sector employees.When you follow the link, however, you learn the author (journalist Jonathan Cohn of TNR) finds the evidence inconclusive:
Having spent some time reporting on public and private sector compensation before, I can tell you that there is a lot of disagreement over the proper way to adjust the raw compensation figures to account for variables like age, education, and so on. (The debate is as much philosophical as methodological: Some conservatives argue that public employers put an artificial premium on graduate education, effectively paying more for degrees that don’t make workers better qualified.) I haven’t seen a specific refutation of Keefe’s report on Wisconsin, but if you want to read an analysis that suggests public workers, in general, are over-compensated, Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute has done work along those lines--and has a new article in the Weekly Standard summarizing his views.
Finally, Chait completely ignores the alternative argument I offered based on the Wellington and Winter analysis, which expressly does not require that unions be on both sides of the bargaining table.
If you'll pardon me for using a variant of one of the infamous seven words, I call bullshit.